KENNY GETS A THICK EAR, THE BOOK AND THE HUMAN MONEY BOX.
RUBY, ONE OF OUR herd of seven cows, had calved the previous week. There were gallons of extra milk, and dad had been busy in the dairy making cream in the separator machine, and I hadn't fallen into any more buckets full of milk. I licked my lips in anticipation as I put an extra big dollop of cream on my bowl of cornflakes.
Mum laughed, "The last day of term,Christmas Day, and the Sunday school outing to the seaside, are the only days when I don't have to drag you screaming from your bed in the morning."
Dad and my old aunt joined in the laughter, and so did I, but I couldn't really see anything funny in me staying in bed as long as I could each morning.
"But why the rush, I know it's the last day, but the school bus won't be here for fifteen minutes,said mum.
My old aunt laughed again, "He wants to be the first one to see what the replacement bus will look like."
"Don't expect a brand new shiny Royal Blue coach," chuckled dad, "if I know Fred he won't hire in anything for one day that is going to cost him much money. Just don't go building your hopes up. You might even have to walk."
Looking up quickly I was just in time to catch him winking at mum..
He was right about one thing though. Mad Freddy didn't hire a posh bus.
"Swizzy!" Chorused the wild children. "It's the same old rust bucket. Swizzy!"
Sure enough, down the road, it's engine spluttering, came the dirty rust bucket cream and red bus, with Mad Freddy crouched behind the wheel puffing out thick clouds of blue smoke.
The bus juddered to a halt, and a piece of rust fell off.
I gave a loud gasp.
The wild children went quiet.
The birds stopped singing.
There was still no door.
But where the door should have been there was a heavy thick black curtain which billowed out in the wind. The rust covered bus resembled a one winged bird.
"Get in then," he said, holding back the curtain. "Don't just stand there gawping. None of you ever seen a curtain before? Come on. Get in. I haven't got all day. And be careful when you walk back through the bus my ladder's lying on the floor. Got a roof to thatch. Don't want you walking on the rungs and breaking them."
"Seen a curtain," I said "in front of a window, but not where a door should be."
Mad Freddy laughed as we trooped up the steps taking care to step between the rungs.Once we were inside Mad Freddy flapped the curtain back into position.
"Best if you sit away from the door," he laughed. "Don't want you falling out as I take a corner."
The rust bucket bus rattled along, and the black curtain flapped up and down. Our bus was a ragged, one winged, black, red and cream crow.
I knew there'd be fun when Kenny got on and I wasn't disappointed.
"What play is us goin' to see?" He asked as Mad Freddy pulled back the curtain and poked his head out. "I hope it's a funny one. I like funny ones with fat dames, beanstalks and geeses in."
"Button your lip," snapped Mad Freddy, "or I'll play with your ear and we'll see if you like that. See if you find that funny."
Anyone else would have seen that Mad Freddy meant business, and that he was in a really bad mood. Not Kenny the Gorilla Harris. He's too thick."
"Can't," grinned Kenny. "Haven't got a button on on my lip."
Mad Freddy lived up to our name for him.
Just as Kenny drew level with him at the top of the steps, he flipped up his right hand and caught him a real beauty around his ear. In fact it went all over his ear.
For once in his life, Kenny went very quiet, and his ear went very, very, red.
"There's your play. It's a real comedy," laughed Mad Freddy. "It's a real pantomime. I hope you find it as funny as I do."
Kenny wasn't laughing, he was nearly crying, but he didn't blub. And we were all disappointed, because no one has ever seen the gorilla cry. That would have been a real Guinness Book of Records entry.
It was good fun in school, because we were allowed to play games. We always do this on the last day of term because our teacher is busy tidying her cupboards and taking the pictures off the walls. Kenny cheats at every game he plays. In Snakes and Ladders he refuses to slide down the snakes, and when he gets close to a square with the bottom rungs of the ladder in it he always lands on it with the next throw of the die, but he covers the die so we can't see what number he has thrown.
After dinner and playtime, during the first lesson, which wasn't a lesson because we were playing more games, our teacher announced, "I shall have to leave you on your own for a few minutes because I have to go next door and have a word with Miss Stephens. And I don't want to hear a sound."
She looked in Kenny's direction when she said it.
As soon as she had left the room, Kenny beckoned to Donald and Peter and me to join him.
"Right," he said. "Now's our chance. Last day of term. Miss is out of the room, so we can look at it."
"Wot?" asked Donald. "Wot can we look at?"
"The Book, Quack-Quack. Wake up. The Book."
"You mean THE BOOK!" Exclaimed an incredulous Donald.
"Yeah THE BOOK," said Kenny breaking into a fit of giggles.
I looked at Peter, who looked at Donald, who looked at me.
"Right, I'm game," I said, even though I knew that it would probably end in trouble with a capital 't' trouble, because it was Kenny's idea.
THE BOOK is on the top shelf at the back of the classroom. It's full of mysteries. Everyone talks about it in hushed voices in the corner of the playground, and us boys talk about it in the boys' lavatory. No one dares to talk about in when Miss is around, because she says it is the teachers' book. Kenny tried to take it off the shelf once. Bad move. Miss caught him.
She said, "If I've told you once I've told you twenty times you are not to look at that book Kenneth Harris. You're not old enough. This is a reference book for the teachers. If ever I catch you climbing up to the shelf again. It will be the cane, and I shall write to your parents.
Whenever you walk past the book you feel heads swivel around and lots of pairs of eyes look at you, as if daring you to scramble up to the shelf. Daring you to look so that they can find out what mysteries are held within the pages.
"My brother says though, it's worth looking at," continued Kenny as we made our way to the back of the classroom. "He looked at it before he went up to big school. And he said that you won't believe wot you've seen until you've seed it and then you won't really believe it."
With that he scrambled up over a desk and pulled THE BOOK from the shelf.
THE BOOK is a big,thick,book. As big as a clenched fist, and the pages are crammed with hundreds and hundresds of words so Kenny's brother says. The words are big words printed small and there are loads and loads of black and white pictures.
Kenny held out the book and I read the words on the blue cover - GRAY'S ANATOMY.
And then Kenny really amazed us, "I know what anatomy means."
We all stared at him.
We couldn't believe our ears.
Kenny never knew the meaning of words, especially a long word.
And then he amazed us again. "Found it in the dictionary."
Our mouths dropped open.
We were completely gob-smacked.
"Didn't even think you knew what a dictionary was," sniggered Peter.
"Let alone how to look up a word in it " added Donald.
"Wanna feel this Quack-Quack?" Said Kenny clenching his fist.
Donald's answer was to move back a few feet..
"Anyway," continued Kenny, "it means str...stri...stricture or something of the humming body. Summit like that anyway."
"What does stricture mean and how does a body hum?" Asked a mystified Peter.
I thought about saying that Kenny's body hummed when we were doing Movement and Dance, but I thought better of it.
Kenny shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno. Didn't find the word stricture. Got bored with looking at all the words. Me brother says if you hold the book up by the covers THE BOOK opens at the page we want. Here you can do it."
With that he thrust the book into my hands.
"Cos I got the book off the shelf and..." He clenched his fist into a knuckle fist sandwich to complete the sentence, before adding,"Besides, if Miss comes back you'll be the one wot's caught holding THE BOOK."
I looked at his knuckle fist sandwich and decided I wasn't hungry, and the wooden ruler didn't seem so frightening either. Lifting the evidence into the air, I held it upside down by the covers. The pages fanned open to reveal.......
For a few seconds we were speechless as we stared at the open page and the black and white illustration.
"Wow!" Exclaimed Donald.
Peter let out a low whistle.
"Crikey-Cripes," whispered Kenny. "It's massive."
"Mine doesn't look like that," I said.
"Nor mine," added Donald.
Peter shook his head, "Should it look like that?" The anxiety showing in his voice. "What happens if it doesn't?"
As one we shrugged our shoulders.
Lifting up the book I made a closer inspection. "Is that the size it's meant to be?"
"Don't ask me. Mr Gray is a lot older than us. Perhaps it gets bigger the older you get," Said Donald. "Mine's a lot smaller than that. So's yours."
I nodded. "And yours is too Kenny."
Kenny peered at the page, "Never seen one that big.Naaa, it's a made up one. Gotter be. Perhaps that's what stricture means.....A made up drawing.....Naa, can't be real. No one can have one that big. Not even old Mr Gray."
Satisfied that we'd seen everything, I closed the book and Kenny,with a clenched fist indicated, Donald to replace it onthe shelf.
We trooped back to our desks and resumed our game of Ludo, and for once Kenny didn't cheat. At playtime we all grouped up in the boys' lavatory.
"Wot a whooper that was," said Peter.
"Easily that big," said Kenny measuring out the length between his thumb and middle finger. "Still can't believe biys.And it must be real because it's in a big book like an anycyclopaedia, and everything's real wot you read in an anycyclopaedia.Never seen a bigger one,not never, ever."
I nodded, "You'm right Kenny. That's the biggest conk We've ever seen. You could smell for miles with a nose that big."
There was a brief silence before Kenny spoke, "Dunno why me brother got so excited though. After all it's only a nose.. I mean it's not as if it's Mr Gray's wi...."
His last word was drowned out by the sound of Miss ringing the hand bell.Playtime was over and as I returned to my desk a thought flashed into my head...What if we'd been looking at the wrong page, perhaps Kenny was right when he'd almost said the 'w' word.
The thought quickly left my head as an ink pellet hit me on the back of my neck. Three guesses where that had come from, but my teacher only needed one -
"Did you fire that paper pellet Kenneth Harris?"
Kenny pretended to look hurt."Always picks on me Miss.Gets the blame for everything."
Our teacher smiled at him, "Now I wonder why that should be?"
We sniggered to ourselves.
Kenny shrugged his shoulders, "Dunno Miss. Not fair."
Our teacher removed a small tobacco tin from her desk drawer and held it up. "Think yourself lucky, it's the last day of term and I'm not going to pursue it. And now for that part of the final afternoon which I know some of you are going to enjoy." She rattled the tin and I heard the chink of coins.
I smiled to myself and clenched my fist. This was definitely the time I'd been anticipating. I hadn't missed a day's school all term, and that meant I'd get a prize. I watched as our teacher ran her finger across the register, a couple of names were called, and then I heard my name. Feeling my face turning red I walked out to her desk.
"Well done. There you are."
I held out my hand and a coin was pressed into it.
"What a difference from yesterday,"she said as she closed my fingers around my prize."Pain on the palm then, pleasure today."
I blushed bright red, "Thank you Miss."
Walking back to my desk I looked at the shiny thrupenny bit, and thought of the sweets it would buy.
"Can I have one Miss." Asked Kenny.
"May I have one Kenny.May I"
Kenny became excited, "Yes please Miss. Can I."
Our teacher continued, "May I, and the answer I'm afraid is no."
Kenny looked confused, "Said please as well. Shan't next time."
"The next time will never happen because you have to attend school every day for a term. One complete week doesn't count I'm afraid." With a laugh, she replaced the tin in her drawer and locked it.
"You want to be careful it's not a forgery," said Donald my desk mate, as he admired the coin.
Donald's family have got electricity and a television set. He watches it until his bedtime at eight-o'clock and he believes everything he sees on it. "Last week," he continued, " the news man said there are a lot of dud coins and notes around. And the only way to test if a shiny new coin is a real one is to bite on it. If it's a genuine one it'll be hard. If it's a forgery it'll be soft and your teeth'll leave bite marks."
I was soft enough to believe him, and I put the coin between my mouth.
"'Ere gi' us a look mate," said Kenny, walking up behind me and slapping me on my back. "Us can buy gob stoppers with it after school mate."
"I gulped as he slapped me again, and down my throat went....
"Miss! Miss! Quick Miss! He've gone and swallowed the drupenny bit wot you gived 'im. You'll be in trouble now Miss."
I began to shake uncontrollably with fear.
"No gobstoppers now," moaned Kenny as our teacher joined us.
She got me to lean forward and then she gave me a sharp slap on my back.
"Go to the canteen Peter and ask for a jug of water with two table spoons of salt in it and a beaker please." She instructed.
Peter was soon back and our teacher made me drink a beaker of salty water in one go. UUUUUGH!!
"Will that make him spew up Miss?" Asked Kenny who was by this time really interested in my predicament. "Stand well back everyone. 'E's going to throw up. Might get our gobstoppers after all.Mind yer shoes.I wonder if there'll be orange bits. There's always orange bits even when you 'aven't had carrots."
Our teacher looked him straight in the eye. "If you haven't got anything sensible to say Kenneth Harris, then I suggest you keep quiet."
Kenny pretended to look hurt. My teacher took my hand in hers and squeezed it. "You'll be O.K. You're not to worry."
Kenny sniggered, "Not thrown up yet Miss. Not working. Hold 'im upside down and shake 'im like mad Miss.Needs to be held up by his ankles. Needs a man. I'll do it Miss."
"If anyone needs to be shaken it's you. Now sit down and shut up you silly little boy."
"Ain't little, and besides it's your fault, you gived him the coin," he mumbled as he returned to his seat.
He sat down, but he didn't shut up. "He'll always have money Miss. like the old woman wot swallowed a fly, it'll always be in him. 'E'll be a human money box."
Our teacher ignored him.
I was worried. "Will it stay in me forever Miss?"
"No of course it won't, she replied. You can't feel any pain can you? Not stuck in your throat?"
I shook my head, "No Miss. Can't feel a thing."
"That's one good thing. I'll write a note to your mum, and you're to promise me that you'll give it to her as soon as you get home."
I nodded, "Promise, Miss."
She returned to her desk and ten minutes later the letter was in my pocket.
At the end of school while we were standing by the village shop, waiting for the rust bucket bus to arrive Kenny sidled up to me and said, "Praps Mr Ronson will let us have three gobstoppers on tick. Us can owe 'im. Tell 'im the money is in your human money box and......." He spluttered with laughter......"and you'll pay 'im next term when yer gets it out."
I didn't find it funny, and I didn't know how I was going to get it out. My mind went back to my head being stuck between the iron bars. Perhaps they'd have to cut it out with a saw.
The rust bucket bus arrived. I was so engrossed at the thought of being sawn open that I didn't even notice the door had been repaired and was back in position. But I did hear Mad Freddy tell our teacher that she wasn't to worry, and that he would take my mind off it. Fat chance I thought to myself.
We waited for Mad Freddy to start up the engine.
"Why are we waiting,Why are we waiting," sang Kenny.
Mad Freddy ignored him. "As you can see the sliding door is sliding again."
Everyone cheered except for me.
"It's the last day of term," he continued.
Another loud cheer.
"And next term I'll need a new door monitor, who I'm going to choose now.
Everyone went quiet, including Kenny. Some of the sissy girls carried on talking, because they knew Mad Freddy wouldn't choose a girl to do the job. Door monitor is the bestest job going. You're in charge and you have to slide it open and shut at every stop. It's much better that being school ink monitor where you have to make sure the ink wells are full each morning. Better even than being milk or straw monitor where you have to give out straws and the third of a pint milk bottles each morning playtime. Girls usually give out straws and milk. You'd give a gob stopper to be door monitor for a day, let alone a whole term. You feel really important, and all your mates are really jealous. Terry Down had been door monitor for the term, and Terence, as his mum calls him, is a goody-goody, and he's good at every lesson. He never does anything wrong, and he always gets everything right in the tests, and he can always do the problem, problems.
Mad Freddy looked at our eager faces.
"I'll do it! I'll do it," roared Kenny. "I've got the biggest muscles. Got big mans's muscles."
"Got the biggest mouth, that's for sure," laughed Mad Freddy."Pity your brain's so small. Can't have you sitting at the front bawling in my ear all the time."
Kenny gave him his gorilla glare.
There was a long pause as Mad Freddy eyed us up and down.
It couldn't be.
Mad Freddy was looking straight at me.
"You're reliable. Never miss a day. you'll do for door monitor."
Kenny's glare changed into a scowl. "I'm stronger than wot 'e is. I should be do in' it. Not fair."
"I wouldn't give you the job for a hundred pounds Mr Harris, and as you get older you'll learn that life isn't fair" he laughed.
"Huh!" Snorted Kenny. "Your old bus isn't even worth a hundred pennies."
Mad Freddy laughed even louder, but it was drowned out as he started up the engine.
As soon as I got home I told my old aunt my exciting news as she was the first person I saw, and I was bursting to tell someone.
"That's very nice I'm sure, but don't go boasting too much or your head will swell up and your cap won't fit next term."
Mum came into the cellar and I suddenly remembered that I'd swallowed the thrupenny bit, and the letter which was stuffed in my pocket.
Mum and my old aunt read it together, and discussed it in hushed voices.
"I'll phone the doctor and get his advice," announced mum as she quickly left the room.
"Don't worry," said my aunt ruffling my curls. "I'll see if I can find you a barley sugar. Sucking abarley sugar always helps, and it'll cheer you up."
Mum returned, smiling broadly, "He says there's no need to worry, and it'll pass through very quickly."
As soon as I heard the words 'pass through', I knew that I wasn't going to like what I was going to be told next, especially when she exchanged a glance with my old aunt. An exchanged glance usually means trouble with a capital 't' trouble.
Mum continued, and I'm sure she was trying not to laugh. "Each morning you've got to sit on your po......." Here she paused a couple of seconds and cleared her throat before continuing...."and you're to stay there until you've done your number twos."
"But mum I could be sitting on it for hours and hours."
"You should have thought of that before you decided to eat money. And no, you just sit on it when you think you need to go. Not as soon as you're up and dressed.You can read a comic."
On Wednesday morning nothing happened.
Well something did happen, but I didn't get my money back.
"Poohy," exclaimed Jimbo when I told him.
"Double poohy," echoed Derek."When the scouts do a job they get a bob."
"And all you'll get is thrupence. And your own at that," laughed Derek.
All three of us laughed and laughed and laughed.
They never came around the next day when.........
Again nothing happened.
"A double helping of prunes at dinner time," suggested my old aunt.
I groaned. Holiday time and here I was having to eat school dinner prunes and custard torture meal.
UUUUUUUUUUGH, Kenny the gorilla Harris had a lot to answer for.
After I'd eaten my shepherd's pie, which didn't have any shepherd in it, I was presented with a big bowl of custard and stewed prunes.
"Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man , poor man, beggar man, thief. silk, satin, velvet, lace , silk, satin, velvet, lace.I'm going to be a thief and get married in a lace shirt I announced as I counted the stones and said the rhyme.
Whether it was my old aunt's prunes, or things going naturally, I don't know but the next morning there was a loud clunk of metal on china.
And there it was..
"I've got it.I've got my money back," I yelled. "I'm rich again."
I ran down the back stairs where I was greeted by my old aunt as I waved my coin at her.
"That is good news," she said with a beaming smile. "But I'd wash my hands if I were you."
I went bright red, as in my excitement at getting my money back I'd forgotten where the coin had been.Uuuuuuuuuugh.Making a face I plunged my hands into the bowl of soapy water.
Mum came in, heard my good news and produced an empty match box from the table drawer. "Keep it in there. It'll be your lucky mascot. You won't want to spend that one.
My old aunt must have seen the disappointment on my face, because from her apron pocket she produced a shiny sixpence. "I've been saving this one for the good news day. And do you know what day it is today? It's Good Friday, and it really is a good Friday."
I pocketed the coin. I'd doubled my money and still had the original coin. It really was turning out to be a Good Friday, and in my head a plan was formulating, but it was a plan which I couldn't carry out until the first day of the next term.